By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers were so close so many times on Sunday to breaking an 11-game losing streak, but the football gods have decided that 2016 is not the team’s year at all. The 49ers blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead, and the visiting New York Jets escaped Levi’s Stadium with a 23-17 overtime victory. With another loss, San Francisco saw its record fall to 1-12 this season with three games left to play. This was the fourth loss of the season by a touchdown or less for the 49ers, as head coach Chip Kelly’s first season with the team hasn’t gone as planned.
The Jets tied the game on a 50-yard field goal with just 43 seconds left in regulation. After Kelly aggressively went for it on fourth down in overtime—only to see his best player get stuffed—New York’s offense marched down the field against a deflated and tired San Francisco defense to score the winning TD. The Jets held the ball for almost 42 minutes in this game, leaving the 49ers gassed on defense when it mattered most. But San Francisco played hard once again, and the coaching staff deserves some credit for that.
The San Francisco offense posted its third-highest yardage total of the season, thanks to running back Carlos Hyde. Finally healthy, Hyde ran for 193 yards on just 17 carries against New York’s defense, and he also caught a seven-yard TD pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. However, Hyde gained just 27 yards on eight carries in the second half when the 49ers were trying to put the game away. That inability to sustain consistent success on the ground cost San Francisco the chance to win the game in regulation. Also, on the key fourth down in overtime, Hyde was stopped for no gain, giving the Jets the ball in prime field position.
Kaepernick had an okay day throwing the ball, completing 15 of 26 attempts for just 133 yards. While he did have the TD pass to Hyde, Kaepernick was unable to keep the offense moving consistently, throwing for just four yards in the second half. The 49ers were just 2-for-12 on third-down conversions in the game, which is why the team held the ball for less than 25 minutes of game time, including the overtime session. Then again, when tight end Vance McDonald left the game with an injury, Kaepernick didn’t have the usual options in the passing game. One extra note: San Francisco played turnover-free football for just the third time this season.
With the offense unable to sustain possession, the 49ers defense played pretty well considering how long it was on the field in this game. Playing against a young QB making just his second NFL start, though, San Francisco was unable to stop Jets RB Bilal Powell. He did his best to keep pace with Hyde, gaining 145 yards and scoring two TDs. That meant that QB Bryce Petty didn’t have to do as much, and even though the 49ers intercepted him once, Petty was able to throw for 257 yards in the game. Plus, the S.F. defense couldn’t get off the field, allowing the New York offense to convert 9-of-19 third- and fourth-down conversions.
The really bad news is that the 49ers let Jets rookie WR Robby Anderson beat them for 99 yards in this game, after S.F. was able to limit the better N.Y. receivers on the day. Anderson’s 26-yard catch in overtime was the backbreaker, as it set up the Jets for at least a field-goal attempt to win the game. That overshadowed the fact that the 49ers held the N.Y. offense to just five yards per play during the entire game, which is a pretty respectable effort for this defensive unit that is beat up and depleted at this point of the season.
Special Teams: D
This is all about kicker Phil Dawson, except for once, he was on the wrong side of the ledger. He missed two FG attempts in the first half, both from distances he usually has no problem with. Throw in those extra six points, and maybe there isn’t a second-half comeback for the Jets. Dawson is usually the most reliable 49ers player every week, so this loss is going to sting even more for the San Francisco placekicker.
It was a smart move to go for it on fourth down in overtime, so kudos to Kelly for having the confidence in his players, despite the team’s 1-11 record. In four of the six games since the bye week, Kelly has had his team right in the game for almost 60 minutes, despite being outmanned in terms of talent. Hyde didn’t get the first down, but if he had, the 49ers probably would have won the game. The record (1-12) doesn’t truly demonstrate how hard this team plays for Kelly; it has more to do with the lack of talent on the roster, so general manager Trent Baalke is the one really to blame here. However, Kelly needs to get better at second-half offensive adjustments in this league.
San Francisco hits the road next week, and it’s a cross-country road trip to Atlanta to take on the high-powered Falcons. While the 49ers are way out of the postseason picture, the Falcons (8-5) are fighting for a spot in the NFC postseason. Atlanta pounded the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday (42-14), and the San Francisco defense is going to face its toughest test of the season next week in the Georgia Dome.